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Landscape Designers' Favorite Plants

Break out of the ordinary landscape with tips from the pros for garden standouts this season

Written by Jane Carlson and Anne DiFrancesco
  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    The time to begin planning your spring and summer garden is now. To give you new ideas and inspiration, we spoke to the professionals for their tips for 2016 – the landscape architects and property managers at renowned landscape company Hoffman Landscapes of Wilton, CT. More specifically, we asked them to share their three favorites among trees, shrubs, groundcovers, and climbers.

    What we loved most about the information they shared was their focus on creating as much year-round interest as possible. So many of us are focused solely on warmer months, on blooms and leafed-out trees and shrubs. Our experts show us that there are many species that enable us to enjoy the garden year-round, even in colder climes. You’ll also find that many of our pros' favorites were chosen for their ability to thrive with minimal maintenance—always good news for the busy homeowner.

    Trees for Year-Round interest from Scott Fawcett

    I chose my three favorites based on three criteria: one that is majestic in the distant landscape, one with particular year-round interest, and one that is beautiful for its blooms and berries but is also easy to grow.

    Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia) features stunning bark that exfoliates in strips of orange, gray, and reddish browns. The foliage is equally beautiful—in summer it is dark green, and it turns red or orange in the fall. It blooms too! Japanese stewartia has beautiful white camellia-like flowers in midsummer, when most other trees have stopped blooming. Stewartia will grow in full sun (as long as it is protected from late afternoon sun) to part shade. Because of its bark and showy blooms, I like to use this tree close to a house or path where it can be seen and appreciated up close.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Trees for Year-Round interest from Scott Fawcett

    Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia) is a truly majestic species, and, yes, they do grow in the East. This is the perfect tree to place at a distance, where its size and conical form can be fully appreciated. Dawn Redwood is an ideal tree to grow in waterlogged soil and is very low-maintenance. I like to say that if you just give it room it will grow straight and true.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Trees for Year-Round interest from Scott Fawcett

    Fringe tree (Chionanthus spp.) is actually a member of the olive family. It is easy to grow, is disease-free, and has white flowers in spring, followed by blue berries in late summer. It is commonly used in woodland gardens where the soil is moist. Fringe tree will grow happily in either full sun or light shade and is tolerant of most soil conditions.

    Scott Fawcett has more than 20 years of experience in landscape property maintenance. As an NOFA-certified, Connecticut-licensed arborist and a licensed ornamental turf supervisor, Scott is well regarded for his deep knowledge of trees and their growing habits.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Shrubs for Year-Long Enjoyment from Brian Cossari

    I have so many favorite shrubs, but my top three provide multi-season interest in the landscape and are wonderfully low-maintenance. All of these shrubs are also relatively fast-growing (achieving maturity within two years), always good news for the impatient homeowner! To inspire new ideas in your garden, I’ve avoided mentioning shrubs that are more commonplace like rhododendron and boxwood.

    Inkberry (llex glabra) is a delightful shrub that is an excellent choice to attract both birds and honeybees. It is a broadleaf evergreen with an upright, rounded shape that requires very little maintenance and is ideal as a foundation plant or as a border. If pollinated, female flowers will become pea-size jet-black berries in fall that will continue to provide interest throughout the winter.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Shrubs for Year-Long Enjoyment from Brian Cossari

    Varigated Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’) is another one of my favorites. In spring it has lovely green variegated leaves and small white flowers that appear in clusters (later giving way to berries), but I especially love it in the colder months when its bright red twigs stand out beautifully against a drab winter landscape (pictured, top). It prefers an acidic soil and will yield its most vibrant red twigs when planted in full sun and given careful pruning.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Shrubs for Year-Long Enjoyment from Brian Cossari

    Viburnum (dentatum scabrellum) is a beautiful shrub that is often mistaken for Kousa dogwood. White flowers appear in spring for a relatively long bloom period, and it has spectacular fall foliage as well. It thrives in both full sun and part shade and requires very little maintenance.

    Brian’s expansive talents as a designer and problem solver have been recognized with both local and national awards. A licensed landscape architect in New York and Connecticut, he is also an executive committee member of the Connecticut Chapter of Landscape Architects. Brian earned a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Massachusetts.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Groundcovers for Easy Maintenance from Jay Trottier

    Groundcovers are terrific problem solvers in the landscape. They’re low-maintenance and are ideal solutions for slopes to prevent soil erosion and keep weeds at bay. They also can lower the temperature of the soil, which is beneficial to surrounding plants and trees. Planted in curving beds or beneath trees can add a textural interest to the garden. I’ve chosen the plants below for their hardiness and rapid growth.

    Pachysandra is an evergreen groundcover that thrives in shady spots. It provides a dense green carpet year-round and has tiny white blooms that appear in early spring. This sturdy groundcover is an ideal plant to pair with other shade-lovers such as ferns and hosta. Pachysandra is both deer- and rabbit-proof. However, it does not like to be stepped on, so it is not a good choice under foundation plants or where it might be walked upon.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Groundcovers for Easy Maintenance from Jay Trottier

    Vinca (also known as periwinkle or myrtle) is prized for its all-summer blooms and comes in white, rose, pink, and red. It is very heat-tolerant and very low-maintenance. It’s ideal as a border or when used as edging.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Groundcovers for Easy Maintenance from Jay Trottier

    Ivy (hedera) is a fast-growing, shade-tolerant evergreen vine that can be used as a groundcover or climbing vine. It’s perfect for hiding eyesores in the landscape like tree stumps.

    Jay is a PLANET-Certified Landscape Technician (CLT), an NOFA-certified Organic Land Care Professional, and holds a degree in ornamental horticulture from Auburn University.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Climbers for All Types of Structures from Matthew Biron

    In my design work, I like to use climbers on pergolas, fences, and masonry. Climbers embellish the landscape by softening hard structures with both form and color. You’ll note I haven’t included climbing roses among my favorites, primarily because they require a great deal of maintenance and are susceptible to a number of pests. My favorite climbers are just as beautiful but with much less hassle.

    Climbing hydrangea (anomala sub. petiolaris) is an excellent choice for more shaded areas. It will need supports to get established as it is a slow grower. I’ve found it’s best to prune them throughout the season to ensure the most desired shape. White flowers will appear in May-June, but it is also an attractive plant in the colder months.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Climbers for All Types of Structures from Matthew Biron

    Wisteria is the ideal climber for a pergola, as it requires a sturdy support system and most homeowners want to be able to enjoy the gorgeous and fragrant trailing blue or white blossoms up close. It’s also an ideal choice for the homeowner seeking instant gratification—wisteria can easily grow up to 10 feet a year! However, it is a plant that requires maintenance with pruning needed 2-3 times annually. It loves sun and is drought-tolerant.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Climbers for All Types of Structures from Matthew Biron

    Clematis (jackmanii) is ideal growing up lampposts, mailboxes, or a trellis. Jackmanii has deep purple blooms that can be 5-6 inches across, so it is very showy! Blooming from June to October, this variety will bloom in full sun to part shade as long as it is well watered.

    Matt is a licensed landscape architect in Connecticut. He draws his inspiration from the architecture of each home, which enables him to create distinctive and highly functional outdoor spaces. Matt received a bachelor of science degree in landscape architecture from the University of Connecticut and is also a member-at-large of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

    About Hoffman Landscapes, Inc.

    Hoffman Landscapes is a full-service landscaping firm providing property maintenance, design-build capabilities, and innovative landscape design. They have won numerous awards from such prestigious organizations as the National Association of Landscape Professionals, the Association of Landscape Contractors of America, and the Professional Landscape Network. 

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